Friday, October 30, 2015

On The Other End Of Interviews

I've interviewed hundreds of interesting people over the years, and now, to be on the other end of the questions, is enlightening. The story of my book is intact--how it came about, the inside scoop--and yet I'll get a comment or question occasionally that interrupts my stump speech and gets me to think.

One woman, when hearing that I had a theatre major, immediately connected the structure of my book with that of a play. Of course!

Another journalist spent the first part of the interview speaking of a past divorce and how the book brought some of that back. I, the interviewee, sat and listened.

And one asked me what I hoped my readers would take from the book. I hesitated. I have been grateful for the wide range of responses, with wide encompassing the way that the journalist could work through his divorce, and a friend who lost her father as a teen saw herself. I can simply begin to tell the tale of the book, and people will cry. But did I plan any of this? No.

I wrote it because I had to. The story asked to be told. And I wrote it in a way that would serve that imperative best, not because I wanted to make people cry. I never wanted to exploit this tragedy; indeed, I was ready to pass on the project for fear that this would happen. And I'd never manipulate my readers.

But I do want you to think. I won't tell you what to think, but I'll put things out there, frame them in such a way that will force you to confront what it is you believe.

Here are how some other writers view my latest project:

recent newspaper article on FRAMES

a church denomination's website

And if you've read the book and want to tell me what you think, please visit and like the FRAMES facebook page.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Temporary Bodyguard

The principal called yesterday.

When your kids are in elementary school, preschool, you know that building. You know the teachers' names, even the ones your kids don't have. Heck, you know the lunch helpers and that one woman on the playground who makes all the kids start the monkey bars from the same end.

But this guy, Principal Somebody, I didn't know him. I heard "principal," "high school," and "Simon," plus a bunch of other words that didn't spell out "your son is fine."

Meanwhile, he said things like, "Simon has been in my office the past 40 minutes," and I did things like commencing the process of cardiac arrest.

A boy in Simon's Culinary Arts class apparently had approached him about stealing the prescription drugs his parents presumably have. Simon deflected the kid's advances and the teacher noticed, so she asked him to explain after class. That led to questioning in the principal's office, some ratting out of others whom Simon has silently observed these past two months since starting his high school career, and a lingering suspicion that things are going to get awkward around the stove.

The approach was textbook, by Simon's recounting, the making of an anti-drug campaign commercial. The kid would pay Simon for bringing him my alleged pills, and would provide pills to replace them and ease suspicion. Because this kid clearly has a collection of various sizes of placebos, and also adults would never notice when something they take every day has shape-shifted.

Simon, who is tall and bursting with curls, drew from his silent reserve of strength and said, Nah. When pushed for his phone number, he said he couldn't remember. If I know my son, he smiled, politely declined the whole affair, and went back to chopping carrots.

We had talked on the phone right after my heart attack, and again once he came home (my recovery period was short). Listening to him, I was proud and said so. I smiled as he talked about being invited to take part in a drug deal, lamenting that I'd never been offered anything more dangerous than a bong. And I said this:

It's okay to lie. Sometimes. Tell the kid you don't own a phone. Tell him you didn't rat him out, or that others got there first. It's okay to stretch the truth for self-preservation, in situations like these.

It's not always the stranger you need to fear. I'd been taught in our YMCA child abuse prevention program that perpetrators often groom their victims, give them a test run. These folks aren't stupid enough to approach just anyone, because that person might squeal. Instead, they spend some time observing and building a friendship before launching the attack. This kid picked the wrong guy, probably thinking that Simon was too nice not to go along with him. He was wrong. Simon said to me, "You know I would never do something like that." And though I certainly hoped that was the case, his words were a real reassurance.

Always do the right thing. Simon had always felt this kid was shifty, and was not surprised at the turn of events. He willingly went along with the school's questioning, telling them everything he knew. I told him I was proud of him. I told him he did the right thing, not just to protect himself and other classmates but also, hopefully, the kid himself. Maybe, if he gets in trouble in his teen years, it will head off an addiction problem down the line. Maybe it won't. Either way, Simon did the right thing.

Doing the right thing doesn't mean all's going to get easy. This boy was not only in Simon's cooking class, but he was also the head chef of their group. Will he be suspended and absent, or did my boy walk into an awkward situation this morning? Will he know Simon spilled the beans? (Other kids fessed up, too.) Will he seek revenge?

Simon and I have had a ritual since his first day of high school. He comes home and says hello, I ask how his day was, he says great, and then I say, "Did you get beat up today?" (He is a passive young person, as was I, until I discovered boxing--and my strength--in my 40s.)

"No." He laughs.

"Shoved into a locker?"

"No." Or sometimes he'll say, "Just for a little while."

The reality is that now, since Simon did the right thing, there might be some consequences. I assured him that the school staff is on this the best they can, and that he's safe on the bus home. If the kid comes here, he has me to deal with.

"I'm your bodyguard," I said, meaning it, but knowing that there's only so much I can do.